Interview: Beijing Olympics a great example, says ITF chief


By sportswriter Wang Zijiang

LONDON, Aug. 8 -- International Tennis Federation president David Haggerty said on Wednesday that the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, which opened exactly 10 years ago, is a "great example" of converting an Olympic venue to the home of another sporting event.

"I have been to the Olympic stadium in Beijing where the [China Open] tennis tournament is today," he said of the National Tennis Center in north Beijing's Olympic Park. "It is a great example of being able to go back and utilise it in an event. "

Haggerty, who was elected ITF president in 2015, told that Rafael Nadal's epic victory in the men's singles final, and that of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka in the men's doubles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, have helped inspired the growth of tennis in China.

"Even today Nadal and Federer are still the top two players in the world," he said. "So it was great and I think it also inspired sport in China, and it inspired tennis for sure. I think that tennis has grown in participation and interest because of the Olympic Games and the legacy it left behind."

Haggerty, who used to be President of the USTA Board of Directors and Chairman of the US Open, said the proposed revamp of the Davis Cup would further boost the development of tennis in China.

"The Davis Cup will be very important for China. If the World Group expands, it will give China the opportunity to compete. And one day the Davis Cup final could be hosted in China."

In addition, a revamped Davis Cup would not only provide competing players with a higher prize fund of 20 million US dollars a year, but would also see a further 25 million dollars of new investment into the development of tennis.

"New money will be invested in junior tournaments and coaching in nations like China. We will make sure all nations will develop tennis for future generations," he said.

China currently competes in the Asia/Oceania Zone of Group I. They have never competed in the World Group, but reached the play-offs in 1990 and also reached the Eastern Zone final in 1987.

The ITF chief wants to turn the 117-year-old Davis Cup into a year-end showdown, where 18 teams would travel to one location to play over seven days in November. The plans have been backed by Investment company Kosmos, which has pledged to pump 3 billion dollars into the tournament over 25 years. Kosmos is owned by FC Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique.

A vote on the proposed reforms will take place on August 16 at the ITF Annual General Meeting, and the plan needs at least a two-thirds majority of nearly 200 member associations to be green lit. Haggerty said the Chinese Tennis Association is fully behind him and he is confident that he will get enough support.

"We had a meeting with 40 associations at Roland Garros, and at Wimbledon we met with another 42 nations [and regions]. We have strong support. We have support from China, a big nation and an important tennis nation for us."

Haggerty noted that other top tennis nations, including France, Spain and the United States, have also been publicly supportive of the reforms, though there has been sharp CRIticism of the changes from the German tennis association.

Top players like Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have also lent their backing to the reforms, and all Grand Slam tournaments except the Australian Open have each sent letters to the ITF officially declaring their full support.

Haggerty said that all the reforms would make the Davis Cup a "big festival", featuring tennis, music and entertainment. "We will elevate the great event to make it even better."

Through these reforms, Haggerty hopes that the Davis Cup will become the fifth most important tournament in the world, after only the four Grand Slam events.

"This reform will be good for the nations, for broadcasters, for the fans and for sponsors. So we believed it will be passed. I am confident, absolutely."

Once the Davis Cup reforms are implemented, the next area of focus will be the format of the tennis competition at the Olympic Games.

"In the future, you will need to play in the Davis Cup in order to qualify for the Olympic Games. So I believe the Davis Cup and Olympic Games will be linked together. As the Davis Cup becomes stronger, the Olympic Games will become stronger, and vice versa."

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